Susan Keller Kistler, Owner of Specs Optical, started wearing glasses in sixth grade and thought they were so unattractive she would only wear them to see the board.  A graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Graduate School of Business, she left her career in the mainframe computer industry behind when she moved to Nashville from Washington, DC (with stints in New York City and Silicon Valley).  She spent 15 years managing an ophthalmology practice and has also completed a two year opticianry program in Richmond. In 2011, Susan passed the two national exams (ABO and NCLE) in order to become a certified optician. Since starting Specs in late 2003, she enjoys matching her many pairs of glasses to her mood and her outfit and not only does she wear them morning to night, she even keeps them on in pictures.

Q: Do vitamins that are made for eyes really help aging eyes?

A: The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) results were published in 2001 and showed that zinc plus anti-oxidants were helpful in reducing the progression of AMD (age-related macular degeneration) in a statistically significant way. The results are rather complex, and it is important to speak to your eye doctor before taking the AREDS formula, particularly if you are a smoker. If you are interested in more details of the study results, this link has a good summary in an easy-to-understand format.

Q: What steps can I take now to prevent cataracts in the future?

A:The development of cataracts is a normal part of aging. Generally, if you live long enough, you will develop cataracts. Cataract extraction is the most frequently-performed surgery for people covered by Medicare, and is really a very easy procedure for most people. Even if you have cataracts, you don’t need to have them removed if you don’t feel they are impairing your activities of daily living.

You really can’t prevent cataracts from developing, but it has been shown that some factors such as steroid use and smoking can hasten their development. There are theories that significant sun exposure can cause cataracts, but it is not proven. Wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection is good for other reasons, such as protecting your eyes and the skin around your eyes.

An ophthalmologist can perform an exam and determine what likely visual improvement can be expected if cataracts are keeping you from doing what you need to do.

Q: What is the number one problem you see with people’s eyes as they age?

A:That is a very difficult question as the eyes change with age just as other parts of our bodies do. Dry eyes are a problem which develops for women as they approach menopause and affects men and women as the lids become more lax. The incidence of glaucoma increases with age and is a silent threat to sight because there are no symptoms. Cataracts, naturally, can cause visual impairment. In addition, diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension can cause serious damage to your eyes and sight.

Probably, the best answer to this question is that the number one problem is that people do not make regular appointments with an ophthalmologist. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (optometrists are not), so they are trained to see changes in the eyes which might indicate systemic as well as eye disease. In my 15 years managing an ophthalmology practice, the doctor diagnosed such problems as tumors outside the eye, diabetes and internal bleeding before the patient’s internist did. Eye exams are worthwhile for many reasons, and more pleasant than many other doctor visits since you don’t need to get undressed or weighed.